Twitter: A my-way social computer

Trying to describe Twitter (and similar tools) to people who have never used them is hard. Trying to explain the value of the Twitter style of microblogging can be some what harder, especially if people don’t get Twitter in the first place! Now, I was only just having one of those kinds of conversations with someone within CSC (actually a conversation via instant messaging), although in this case they “get” Twitter some what but we were trying to explore its application a bit more. A few days later I come across this post by Jive Software’s Sam Lawrence about Twitter as a “two-way social computer” – summarised is this diagram:

As Ed Brill observes about Lawrence‘s post:

The discussion on his blog has spun off into the notion of whether there should or should not be an “enterprise Twitter”, or other ideas like channels and filters.  I personally would love to see two parallel streams — IBMers and external — in terms of visualization, even if the tweets themselves still end up in both places.  The other thing I’d like to watch for is how to better monitor who follows me — it’s a good reminder that the whole stream is public, and that any one 140 character string can certainly be taken out of context.

Actually, for those very reasons I actually have two Twitter identities – my public @chieftech account and a private Twitter account I’ve been using for work. This second account is really an experiment between a few of us at CSC over the last few months and this is what I’ve observed while we’ve been trying it:

  • Twitter simply isn’t designed to allow the easy creation of private two-way following relationships, and there is no way of enforcing people who follow my private stream to keep their stream private too.
  • Right now it lacks the critical mass inside the firewall, but then if we reached critical mass would I want to follow and be followed by 90,999 other employees?
  • People direct message me to my public account anyway if they have something to say that they don’t want shared in public.

This isn’t to say my CSC-only Twitter account hasn’t been useful – certainly it has demonstrated the potential of having a work related activity stream and a way to shout out for help, particularly for virtual teams or if team members are travelling or working offsite. But its a different, more restrained Twitter experience.

I’ve wondered if in fact what is needed is a way to encrypt tweets so I can use one Twitter identity but keep some tweets secret, but I think fundamentally Twitter only really works because its social nature creates diversity, which in mind is a major attraction. But them I’m not someone who attempts to follow or be followed by thousands of people. So for me Twitter is neither the one-way or two-way system that Lawrence has described – its an open system that happens to include people I work with and other people that I don’t. In other words, my organisational membership doesn’t define my Twitter membership. So, its a my-way social computer.